Carl Jones battled with his scientific elders to save the Mauritius kestrel. His renegade success taught him that mainstream conservation needs a rethink
By Fred Pearce and Carl Jones
I OFTEN clash with my fellow conservationists, even though we have the same goals. I’ve always focused on species, whereas most of the conservation community look at ecosystems. For me, it all started with a love of birds of prey: as a schoolboy in rural Wales I kept and bred common kestrels in my garden.
When I was 20, I went to a conference on captive breeding at the University of Oxford, where I was inspired by the ornithologist Tom Cade. He said: “No birds of prey need become extinct – we have the capability to breed them and put them back into the wild.” He showed a picture of the Mauritius kestrel and said it was the world’s rarest bird but it could be saved.
I thought this was amazing: what I had been learning in my garden could help save the Mauritius kestrel. I was so fired up that I later went to the US to meet Cade and learn more about captive breeding. The trouble was that many conservationists believed that it was too late to save critically endangered species like the Mauritius kestrel. They were doomed, and the money would be better spent elsewhere.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) had a small Mauritius kestrel project, but were talking about pulling out. I was determined: through a contact, I persuaded Peter Scott, an ornithologist and head of WWF, to give me, a novice, the chance to go to the island in a last-ditch bid to save the species.